Horrifically hearty laughter
The Mystery of Irma Vep
Sacramento, CA 95814
“Horror! Horror! Horror!” And with that, feel free to laugh.
The many characters of The Mystery of Irma Vep, in a new production at the Sacramento Theatre Company, are caught in a mash-up of old-school horror and thriller plots (think Rebecca meets The Wolfman meets The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb meets Gaslight, and you’ll still be missing a couple)—and all the roles are played by two actors. The admirable—and admirably busy—Greg Alexander (who also directs) and Benjamin T. Ismail go through, according to STC’s executive producing director Michael Laun, a total of 35 costume changes, often while shouting out additional dialogue from backstage.
We’re not allowed to forget that one of the reasons we call what they do at the theater a “play” is because it is play. In this case, the very smart decision to use decidedly obvious props—cut from wood or very thick cardboard, they’re all clearly not the real thing—helps heighten the sense of theatricality. That sense is further aided by Ismail’s occasional flirtatious winks at the audience and Alexander’s raised eyebrows and knowing grin.
The story involves Lord Edgar Hillcrest, who has brought his second wife, Lady Enid, home to his manor house. But the house appears to be haunted by the ghost of his first wife, Irma Vep. There’s also a terrible problem with a wolf, a creepy housemaid, some ancient Egyptian texts (which require an excursion to Egypt in the second act) and the possibility of vampirism.
That ought to be enough for anyone, but we’ll also give accolades to set design by Mims Mattair for, among other things, turning the long and narrow Pollock Stage into a serviceable Egyptian tomb, complete with a sarcophagus. And, given all those quick changes, we’d be remiss not to mention the outstanding work of costume designer Jessica Minnihan. Her designs give the appearance of full construction, but they must surely be modified to allow the rapid transformations that Alexander and Ismail undertake.
Ultimately, though, it’s the skill and chemistry of the two actors that make Irma Vep worth the two hours spent in a plot straight out of an Abbott and Costello movie. They’re obviously enjoying themselves, and we can’t help but join them.